Mary Ann Ranells

Mary Ann Ranells, PhD, is superintendent of the West Ada School District in Meridian, Idaho. She has played a key role in aligning curriculum to meet state standards and directed several federal programs.

Idaho Leads Through Collaboration

The Idaho Leads Project is a professional development team focused on strengthening leadership capacity in K–12 schools in order to ensure the success of all Idaho students in the 21st century. The goal of the project is twofold: first, to support and enhance the advancement of educational improvement and reform in Idaho and second, to share, in an easily accessible manner, best practices to all interested districts, schools, and charters. From the beginning of the project, it was clear that the tenets of the professional learning communities process would provide the key ingredients to our success.

The Idaho Leads Project provides trustees, superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, students, and community members across the state with support to become more effective leaders and to create high-performing schools where all students succeed. Boise State University’s Center for School Improvement & Policy Studies was awarded an 18-month, $3.85 million grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation for funding this project.

Every Idaho district and charter school was invited to apply to join. Of the approximately 150 Idaho school districts and charter schools, 49 were accepted. As a statewide endeavor, the culture of collaboration in the PLC framework greatly expanded the opportunities and structure for building shared knowledge beyond our own schools and districts.

Those participating have so far convened for three regional network meetings where district teams (including students) have learned about building relationships, using effective practices, managing change, and committing to systematic continuous improvement in order to work together as statewide stakeholders to build high levels of leadership capacity at all levels. Each of these factors represents the key challenges that every PLC must address. District teams (including administrators, board members, parents, teachers, and students) have defined priorities, identified and celebrated successes, and determined areas where improvements can be made.

The powerful connection between the Idaho Leads Project and the PLC process is the beauty of collaboration within and across districts throughout the state. Not only are we sharing research, effective strategies, and celebrating increased student achievement, we are building a network of collaborative competition and establishing goals for which we are mutually accountable. The PLC process of collaborating with others to improve professional practice is essential to the success of the Idaho Leads Project.

Our school district was fortunate enough to be selected to participate in this amazing project. We were spoiled. For the first time in a very long time, our successes were honored and recognized. We were not told what to do, but we were given the tools, encouragement, and support to dream again, to believe in ourselves again, and to accomplish noble goals again. Every step has been an extraordinary affirmation of our PLC.

For example, in the Lakeland Joint School District, 99 percent of all eighth-grade students and 98 percent of students who are economically disadvantaged were proficient or advanced in reading on the state test. In 10th grade, 86 percent of all students and 84 percent of students who are economically disadvantaged performed at high levels in mathematics. We look at data differently and, as a result, we write SMART goals differently.

Even more impressive is the collegiality we feel as a state. We have renewed respect for our sister districts, and sharing great ideas has become the new norm. Plus, competitive collaboration is fun! There isn’t anything we can’t do together.

Above all, we are grateful to our critical friends and mentors from Boise State University’s Center for School Improvement & Policy Studies. They raised the bar for excellence and created a clear, compelling path for success.

Stories about each of the 49 districts in the Idaho Leads Project, as well as other resources and information, are available here.

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